In “The Neck,” A History Of Stiff Resistance To Change


1926 photo of what is now 10th and Pattison, site of Citizen's Bank Park

1926 photo of what is now 10th and Pattison, site of Citizen’s Bank Park

On a bright May morning in 1917, a small army of police, firemen, and laborers descended on the farm of Patrick Short. They had come to shut down the last illegal pig farm in South Philadelphia, and violence was expected. Short and his two grown sons met them at the gate with shotguns, determined to defend their 185 pigs from seizure by the city. As the tension mounted, the police chief said, “Get your guns out, boys,” and the officers reached for their pistols.

Why were these men about to shoot each other over a bunch of pigs? Philadelphia’s war on pigs was part of a 60-year struggle by City Hall to fill, colonize, and develop “the Neck,” the low-lying, highly polluted swamp that hugged the east bank of the Schuylkill River below Oregon Avenue and curved like a goose’s neck all the way around to–and draining–if it ever would drain–into the Delaware River at the city’s southeastern edge. Indeed, for more than a century, planners and city officials have been trying to figure out how to wring economic value from the vast lowland. To the extent they have succeeded, we possess a sports complex, an obsolete wholesale food market, a sea of once vital but now economically fragile oil refineries, the Schuylkill Expressway, a few neighborhoods, and FDR Park.

With the long-term future of the of refineries in question and biotech and medical industries expanding downriver from University City, City economic development officials, designers, and planners, armed with case studies and land use analyses, are once more eying the Neck as a place of urban invention, job development, and recreation.

But the first taming of the Neck came at a terrible cost: the uprooting of entire communities and the destruction of a landscape and a rural way of life that had existed for centuries. The upheaval, long advocated by business and civic leaders, journalists, and prototype environmentalists who called for the river’s clean-up at the turn of the 20th century, would anticipate the even more ambitious and conflicted reclaiming of the swamps and farms of Eastwick immediately across the river into what would be the nation’s largest Urban Renewal project of the early 1960s (and one that fell far short of planners’ goals).

Perspective northeastward from Pattison and Penrose Avenues, 1915

Perspective northeastward from Pattison and Penrose Avenues, 1915

Turn Of The Century Dreams

Land values were on the rise in the early 20th century and South Philadelphia was swelling with immigrants. City planners envisioned the far south of the city as an oasis of tree-lined streets and row houses. City councilmen licked their chops at the prospect of more property taxes from the increased land value. The Philadelphia Bulletin columnist Christopher Morley dreamed of a city “in which the lower Schuylkill would be something more than a canal of oily ooze; in which the wonderful Dutch meadows of the Neck would be reclaimed into one of the world’s loveliest riverside parks.”

New neighborhoods were indeed to be anchored by two parks, Marconi Plaza and League Island Park. Broad Street was to be extended south to the Navy Yard, and a new road, Patison Avenue, would run east to west. As the land around these projects rose in value, it would be filled, raised, and built on.


In 1912 much of the Neck still looked like the scene pictured here from “A Day in the Ma’ash,” in the July, 1881 issue of Scribner’s Monthly

Like many urban planning projects, this was all easier said than done. For one thing, much of this land was in use raising vegetables and livestock for the markets uptown. To realize their suburban fantasy, the city needed to destroy the backbone of the Neck’s traditional economy, especially pig farming, which was deeply-entrenched in the life of the Neck. In 1912, there were about 20,000 pigs living south of Oregon Avenue among the thousand or so humans. Generations of Neckers had made a living raising pigs, which were fed on garbage collected by the Necker’s children. Pigs were the Neck’s biggest “export,” followed by cabbage and clover sod.

Claiming that pig manure produced “harmful gasses” that caused disease, in 1911 City Council passed a ban on pigs within city limits. “The pigs will disappear so fast you can’t see them,” said Mayor John E. Reyburn. “The lands rented for piggeries will become so valuable that the raising of swine there will be abandoned.”

About the author

John Vidumsky has been exploring abandoned spaces for as long as he can remember. He recently received an MA in history from Temple University, where he studied 20th-century Russian history. Currently, he works for Hidden City as Head of Research and Client Services. In his spare time, John plays Celtic harp, runs a drum circle and does photography.

Send a message!


  1. Great Article!!!!

  2. Great article.

    The David Goodis novel Night Squad, which takes place in the Neck, provides a great view of life there in late 1950s. It was really interesting to read about a landscape that completely doesn’t exist anymore.

    • Very cool, I will check that out. I’m not done with this topic by a longshot.

      • In 1950s where food disabution center was a place called the rocks a big boulder dump o sorts what was there or what was it we used to play there

        • How i remember the rocks a great place of adventure a postcard in time was the rocks fom a old post office torn down i never really found out i also remember the neck and gerello water what great memerios

  3. Thanks, John, you just have to love the pig wars! In May of 1917, the city also shut down eleven piggeries in the other big Philadelphia pig farming section – Wheatsheaf Lane in upper Port Richmond. The Philadelphia Livestock Association on Eleventh and Shunk Streets took up the cause of the pig farmers, circulating petitions in South Philadelphia and publishing ads in the Inquirer with headlines that read “Pigs in the Crisis.” The Association claimed that allegations of odors and diseases caused by the piggeries were groundless. They also pointed out that, as the U.S. was now involved in the War in Europe, the pigs were not only an important source of meat but could be fed cheaply on garbage and waste, conserving scarce grain for human consumption. As they said, “we need all the pork we can get.”

    • Wow, how about that? Do you know where I might find the archives of the Livestock Association, or documents about them? I already checked the Horticultural Society, to no avail.

  4. Great research.

  5. I’m pretty sure there are no records or archives. Because of its location in S. Philly and the brief mention of it in 1917, I’d bet that the Livestock Association was just a short-lived ad hoc organization formed by the pig farmers themselves. Although there was a long campaign to drive piggeries out of the city, dating from the 1880s, the final push came in the 1910s with the desire to convince Congress and the Navy Department to sink money into expanding the League Island shipyard. Philadelphia had been competing with Norwalk, CT and Norfolk VA for federal funding since after the Civil War. The City Councils were afraid that the proximity of acres of “filthy, disease breeding piggeries” would hinder the shipyard’s chances. It all comes down to money. By the way, really great article and photos, John!

    • Thank you!

    • just a comment: I was born in south Philadelphia and lived at 2600 block of S. 12th Street. The homes were built in 1909 and the original deed for my house states that no piggery shall be allowed on the house property. Great articles and comments! Thanks

  6. What a fascinating story! Hidden City, indeed. No mention of the fact that pigs poop stinks, and probably stunk up Center City when the wind was wrong.

  7. What a strange piece of history. It really does look like sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. I’m really impressed with the quality of pictures from the early 1900’s.

  8. I’d heard of the Neck but never really understood where it was. Obviously not a native south philian. Very interesting article.

  9. Looking at the several photos in a row, the far right photo includes a neat row of utility poles. Might you want to check PECO archives and archives of the early telephone company in that area?
    Not just to confirm the presence of such utility service, but the names of customers? addresses of those customers?
    And, churches come and churches go. I gather that the little church in the other photo is no more. Yet when a church congregation or parish is folded up, it is merged into another. Such a merger might be documented in this case, and therefore there might be names of parishioners or congregants. Records of christenings (baptisms), marriages, deaths and burials (where?)….
    My family (various people who would later meet, marry and be our ancestors) arrived in Philly in the 1840s, and when horsecar lines were offered, moved a bit south. Not as far as the Neck, and when the Market St elevated opened, they went to various parts of Overbrook, met each other and married, and didn’t go into the suburbs until the 1950’s etc. They returned to South Philly for the Mummers Parade — into the 1980s.
    But one of those S Philly ancestors did some real estate investing in the 1890s, buying three places further down in S Philly, below St Agnes Hospital. Maybe in the Neck, just as it was being “improved”.
    Great article, you are a really into Local History!

  10. Great article. My grandparents were chased out in the 50’s when the army corps of engineers flooded the neck to make them leave under the guise of building the approach to the Walt Whitman bridge. Until I became an adult, I never knew anything about the neck or stone house lane other than what we were told as children. I love learning about it. Thanks!

    • Excellent article. I was born and raised near Marconi Plaza park. My father told me stories about Stonehouse Lane and The Neck when I was a kid. My grandmother told me that her father was friends with the people who lived in Bellaire Manor (the old house now inside the golf course at FDR Park. She referred to it as the Singley house. They were guests there on one or more occasions when she was a girl. She told me of the canals that still existed in that area back then.

      • Your grandmother may have known my grandfather and/or his parents then! My Mom’s father (a Singley) lived there as a young boy, but the family was asked to move during improvements for the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1926.

  11. John,
    Thank you for this great article! My great grandparents lived on Stonehouse lane in the 1920s. My aunt was born there. I remember my great aunt Dora telling us stories at her house at 10th and Oregon, of when they lived “Down the Neck”. They obviously didn’t move far. Those folks were poor and didn’t know it.

    My dad recalled a visit there in the early 40’s to pick up an icebox when my parents were first married. He recalled that at that time much of the area was a dump.

    I suppose you ran across Christopher Morley’s “Travels in Philadelphia” while doing your research. It gives us a romantic view of The Neck in 1920. I would love to see more pictures of the area. Aunt Dora’s stories come alive when I see what she was talking about.

    Thanks again for shedding more light on this now almost forgotten area.

  12. John,

    Since I have been trying to find the exact location of Farley’s Piggery, on Maiden Lane, seen in a DOR photo from 1913; this article, that I found quite by accident, begs the question: Do you know the exact location of Farley’s Piggery?

    Also, the city at least slightly legitimated the last aspect of the Neck, since in the mid 1920’s, fire alarm box 4598 was assigned to the intersection of Stone House Lane and Johnston Street, not a true “intersection”, but an approximation down Stone House Lane from Oregon Avenue. By 1962, the box was reassigned to another approximate intersection, 3rd and Johnston.

    A look at the 1928 Aerial Survey of the Philadelphia Region, found on, shows Stone House Lane, and houses zigzagging along it.

    Thanks for a great article, 4 years later.

  13. As a young kid I became aware that my grandfather, Patrick Short, raised pigs. However, I never associated it with the “Neck” because my grandfather raised them in an area closer to the Schuylkill river. The” Neck” I knew about was south of Oregon Ave. close to the Delaware river.

  14. great article:i lived at 9th &shunk st.and had a class mate who lived down the NECK.his name was howard horner(very tough kid).we use to go to the neck and we all knew it was dangerous as the people down there did not trust time we were chased out by a bull.found memories of life in s.philly

  15. My mom grew up in the neck, moved out during childhood in the 50s.

  16. Excellent read. I stumbled upon this article while researching the Neck, as my Vautier ancestors appear to have been some of the early farm truckers of the area. I found an article in The Times (25 April 1891, page 8) in which the Neck Barons are discussed…. my ancestors were listed by surname in that article. Your article helped shed some light on the goings on of the area, even though by 1917 my direct line was not in the Neck anymore.

  17. Elizabeth obst(Ibbetson)

    My name is Elizabeth Obst maiden name Ibbetson I was born in the neck I was born in 1952 I remember a lot about the neck and as I read some of the articles I don’t find them to be completely true I know the article about the fire in the four children is not completely true that was my uncle and my aunt who lost the poor children she was not in House at the time of the fire the oldest child was named Bertha and she was in charge of taking care of the younger ones, when the fire started it was believed that she took the younger ones into the bedroom but for fear of her parents she did not want to break the window and that is where they found the four children as far as my aunt Bertha she was alive and well for many years after that the father’s name was Richard Ibbetson the mothers name was Bertha it was a horrible horrible time in my uncle’s life and he had horrible memories for the rest of his life I can still see in my head what it look like And I’m not sure when the last of us left but I remember having to leave and I don’t think I was that young for some reason I believe I was six or seven when we moved out so I don’t understand why they say the last people moved out in 1955 I’m pretty sure we were there 256 or 57

  18. Fascinating article. My grandmother was from the Neck. When I was growing up in Jersey, she and my step grandfather had a farm in Moorestown. Pig farm and trash business. There were a lot of pig farms in jersey back then. I guess when they were run out of philly they went over the bridge and started back to the only life they knew.

    I’m glad I read this article. I never really knew what or where the Neck was. Very interesting, thank you John.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Jewelry Designer Adds Flair To Old Stable In East Passyunk

Jewelry Designer Adds Flair To Old Stable In East Passyunk

October 9, 2019  |  Art & Design, Preservation

An old horse stable in South Philly finds a new function in the fashion world. Stacia Friedman takes a look inside > more

Salvage City: Recycling History One Object At A Time

Salvage City: Recycling History One Object At A Time

October 7, 2019  |  Art & Design

One person's trash is another person's treasure, especially in the world of architectural salvage. Jacqueline Drayer takes a look at a new art exhibition at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens through the lens of the city's reclaimed materials industry > more

Special Collections Show Their Stuff For Archives Month Philly

Special Collections Show Their Stuff For Archives Month Philly

October 3, 2019  |  History

Archives Month Philly kicks off with a long list of October events in the Delaware Valley. Kimberly Haas spoke to archivists from across the region to get the details on what's in store this year > more

The Crowning Glory Of Christ Church’s Steeple Comes Down For Restoration

The Crowning Glory Of Christ Church’s Steeple Comes Down For Restoration

September 26, 2019  |  Preservation

In Old City, Christ Church's 265-year-old weathervane come down from the steeple to undergo restoration. Kimberly Haas has the details > more

Op-ed: Spreading The Gospel Of Deadbox, One Bottle Cap At A Time

Op-ed: Spreading The Gospel Of Deadbox, One Bottle Cap At A Time

September 26, 2019  |  City Life

In this essay Len Davidson makes the case for resurrecting a long-lost Philly street game that once contributed to the vibrance of neighborhood life and the human connection of row house culture > more

Concrete Cowboy Of Southwest Philly Finds A New Home At Bartram's Garden

Concrete Cowboy Of Southwest Philly Finds A New Home At Bartram’s Garden

September 24, 2019  |  City Life

After being ousted from vacant, City-owned land, an urban cowboy and his posse of young protégées find a permanent place to hang their hats. Sam Newhouse has the news > more